Top Pakistan judge to probe woman's flogging


ISLAMABAD: April 4, 2009. (AFP) Pakistan's top judge has ordered a court hearing into the public flogging of a woman, filmed on an amateur video, that has raised alarm about the tightening grip of Islamist hardliners.

The footage, apparently from a mobile phone, shows two men pinning down a burka-clad woman by her feet and shoulders, while a bearded man in a turban flogs her 34 times with a whip as she screams in agony. Chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has ordered her to be produced in court at a hearing set for Monday, according to a Supreme Court statement. He has also demanded that government and regional officials from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) appear in person at the hearing. "Chief justice of Pakistan has been pleased to order that... the matter be fixed before a larger bench on Monday," said a statement from the court. "Chaudhry has taken a serious notice of the video clipping on TV for violation of fundamental rights, guaranteed under the constitution of Pakistan," it added in English. Although it was not clear when the video was filmed, the clip was shown on Pakistani television on Friday, two months after the government signed an agreement with a pro-Taliban cleric to allow sharia law in Swat region. The deal triggered alarm around the world among those fearful that it would embolden militants across the northwest, a hotbed for Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Thousands of Taliban followers spent nearly two years waging a terrifying campaign to enforce sharia law in Swat -- beheading opponents, bombing girls' schools, outlawing entertainment and fighting government forces. Samar Minallah, who works for a Pakistan human rights organisation, said she was given the tape by people in Swat which she distributed to the Western media to highlight the cruelties endured by women in the region. "Ths girl was flogged on the basis of suspicious and false evidence. She is 17 years old... The entire village knows she is innocent," Minallah told AFP. There was no independent confirmation of the woman's age, nor the reason for the flogging -- a common punishment handed down by Taliban hardliners for a variety of misdemeanours in Swat and other parts of northwest Pakistan. The Pakistan government has condemned the flogging and ordered an inquiry.

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